Since the inception of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the show has contained pervasive references from Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary, Paris Is Burning. In every episode, viewers experience slang and competition format(s) that have been borrowed and revised from various aspects of the blatino drag ball scene/subculture within the film. RuPaul uses these aspects as a way to legitimize and assert himself as the authority of drag or better yet, confirm his status as SuperModel of the World. Episode 506 features the highly coveted challenge, The Snatch Game, comparable to a grand ball; more important than the RPDR crown itself, as the game supposedly showcases which performer(s) has the ability to assimilate into a ‘product’ absorbed within mainstream pop culture marketplace. This challenge is normalization at its best, not celebrity impersonation.
In this episode, RuPaul dresses in ‘executive realness’ ball attire and evaluates the contestants’ pitched personas of The Snatch Game. While in ‘executive realness’ drag, RuPaul signals the corporate authority/ownership of the show and that of someone who transforms performers into tangible, assimilated products. This is subtly evident when RuPaul questions Jinkx Monsoon about her character portrayal of Edith Beale by asking, “Are you a little worried that the audience at home won’t know who she is?” Ru further reminds Jinkx to “Make sure, you make Little Edie pop for the unwashed masses.” After hearing his comments, I immediately thought of Katherine Sender’s passage about Queer Eye, in which Stasi cites that “gay TV has become the spectacle of gay men acting out for the amusement of straight people” (Queens for a Day: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the Neoliberal Project) RuPaul’s comments are disingenuous as the premise of the show is to highlight the discourse of drag culture. Edith Beale and the Grey Gardens documentary is as important to queer fashion culture, as Paris is Burning is to the transgendered and drag communities. In contrast, RuPaul reaffirms Alaska Thunderfuck’s choice of impersonating drag legend, Lady Bunny, therefore, passing on queer culture that is artificial, as Lady Bunny has assimilated into a marketable, hetero normative version of performative self, as evident in the RPDR spin-off, Drag U.
The Snatch Game is touted as one of the most important challenges of the season; as noted by Jinkx Monsoon: “You should already have a plan (for The Snatch Game) from the moment you audition.” However, at the end of the game, RuPaul sounds the winner as “Who Cares!” Why would no one care who wins such an integral challenge? Is this challenge, as Sawyer said of QEFTSG, nothing more than gay “minstrelsy?” Not much has changed with the induction of RPDG into mainstream social consciousness. Furthermore, RuPaul isn’t looking to enlighten heterosexuals on queer experiences, nor deconstruct his Supermodel of the World persona, nor give up the crown … he’s just looking forward to collecting the coins, hunty!